Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Peter Young, author of Flatlander and the Rise and Fall of Mike & the Ravens
FQ: First, I wish to thank you for sharing your story with the rest of us. I am a rock-n’-roll fanatic (80’s long-hair, heavy metal bands, to be exact), and I found your story a great deal of fun to be a part of.
YOUNG: Thank you Amy Lignor. I appreciate your comments about Flatlander and the quixotic quest of my band, “Mike and the Ravens.”
FQ: Ah...times have changed. Rock-n’-roll is always transforming, adding new branches and talents with each decade. Are there any performers working in this day and age that you listen to a great deal? And why?
YOUNG: You’re right Amy. Bob (The Times They are a-Changin’) Dylan made a ton of money on that fact way back in ‘64. People change and rock ‘n’ roll transforms, yet I often wonder if a Martian watching us would notice. People are, well people, and all of us have a ton of quirks and foibles that don’t seem to change over the eons. Similarly, rock is rock. It can be soft or hard. Sweet or biting. It can “message” or be inane. But there’s something that holds it all together. I wish I knew what that something is.
I enjoy the music of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and some of your ‘80s (Queen, Bon-Jovi Guns N’ Roses Van Halen) although I must admit, my ears hurt when I hear Metallica and Motley Crue. I am still trying to understand what if anything defines music of the ‘90s and the new millennium.
I listen to many different artists today including the old stand-bys, James Taylor and his former squeeze, Carly Simon, Carol King, Bob Segar and Linda Ronstadt. (I think Linda is the greatest female rock ‘n’ roller of all time.) I saw last year the Broadway show “Beautiful” about the life of Ms. King, Wow! The historian in me recognizes and appreciates the trails the above performers blazed. I also enjoy watching and listening to Beyoncé and yes, even Lady Gaga but I must admit watching those two is more fun than listening to them.
FQ: What was the worst experience you ever had on your journey? Is there a fan experience, as well, you could tell readers about?
YOUNG: I assume you are speaking about my musical journey. As I recounted in Flatlander, I fell in love with music at a very young age. At first it was country and western peppered with a strong dose of the songs of the singing cowboys, Roy and Gene. But 1954 and 1955 were game-changing years. Hello rock ‘n’ roll, goodbye C&W (Although to be accurate there is still a little country in me.) I traded in my cowboy hats and shirts with pipings and fringes for long hair and a rebellious nature. “Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against? Johnny: What've you got?”
Then there was the phone call. It was early spring of 1962. My band, Mike and the Ravens had recently completed its first professional recording session at Ace Studios in Boston compliments of Monument Records, Roy Orbison’s label. Ed Keesack Orbison’s producer and a major domo at the label said he was very interested in Mike and the Ravens after he heard a homemade single track tape of our stuff. He asked that we record three or four of our own compositions and if he was still interested, we would be on our way.
I had recently quit college after one semester because my future was the top 40. Mike and the Ravens was gonna make it big. We had the talent, the charisma, the quirkiness, the good looks, everything. No need to listen to some college professor drone on about oranges in “From here to Eternity” representing breasts. Really? Who needs college anyway? I’ll have enough dough to even buy my parents a spiffy new car. On the seat will be a gift card with the words, “From rock ‘n’ roll to you.” (What a great way to prove to my parents that I made the right decision when I left the University of Vermont.)
Then came the phone call.
“Umm, Peter, I have some bad news,” rolled off Mike’s lips a week after our Boston recordings. “Ed just called me. Remember when he said in New York he was interested?”
“Yeah,” I slowly responded, not happy with the way this was going.
“Well, he’s no longer interested.”
That was the nadir! College drop out. Rejected musician. Woe is me. (But things quickly turned around for Mike and the Ravens as recounted in Flatlander.
Successful rock bands who perform in front of adoring crowds will invariably acquire groupies. Mike and the Ravens routinely drew 1500 or more fans during our heyday in 1962 in Plattsburgh, New York. We were 18 years old with vigorous libidos. Our lexicon did not include the word “monogamous.” You can see where this is going. There was a very nice and attractive young lady that I dated for a while during this period. But I wandered. I explored. I sorta kinda began to ignore her. She responded to my insensitivity by sending me a post card with two pennies and a dime (remember, this was 1962) taped to the back with a snarky note “Hey Young! Maybe you can now write? Or call?” Yowser.
FQ: Is there anything you would go back and change; a door that this mature man, knowing what he knows now, would go back in time and walk through?
YOUNG: There are always things one would do different with the benefit of hindsight. As I recounted in Flatlander, Mike and the Raven’s amazing rhythm section of the band as we called ourselves (Steve: rhythm guitar, Brian: bass and me: drums) often were politically incorrect. We were funny and quirky and the fans ate it up. But sometimes our humor was at the expense of others. I think we could have been just as funny and just as quirky without some of the insensitive things we did, like the time in 1960 we gave the finger to TV land after our performance on Teen Age Barn broadcast over WRGB, Schenectady, NY.
Also, we did not work very hard at our craft. We hated to rehearse. We disliked structure. We enjoyed chaos. I think we would have “made it” nationally if we had a stronger work ethic. But then again, causing an album of the top hits of 1958 to be broadcast over a robust church belfry system at 2:00 am Labor Day weekend in 1962 in Stowe, Vermont would have still been the beginning of the end. Jail will do that you know.
FQ: Do you watch things like American Idol? Or, The Voice? If so, what do you think of the talent (youth) of today?
YOUNG: I do not watch AI or The Voice. Why? Because I hate commercials. I get restless. I get bored. So, I watch stuff on my Roku or my smart TV and avoid the ads. Yes, I watch news programs and therefore I do have to suffer, but I pre-record most of those shows and fast forward through the commercials. Thank goodness for technology.
Major league baseball players today are bigger, faster, stronger and for the most part better than those that came before. Same with professional football and basketball players. I think a similar principal applies to rock ‘n’ roll. You build on the past. The science of rock increases. The envelope is pushed. Technology opens new frontiers. New sounds emerge and so on. But every now and then you hear a 45 recorded in the ‘50s. One track. No dubbing. The lyrics and instrumentals recorded on the same take. Wow! Think Buddy Holly and the Crickets and “That’ll be the Day.” Magnificent!
Mike and the Ravens recorded all of its ‘45s in the early sixties on one track mono tape. It was hard but very rewarding to get a final take. Our four albums produced from 2004 through 2010 were crafted in a studio that had 16 to 32 tracks that allowed for layering, dubbing and easy correction of mistakes. Some difference indeed.
FQ: Practicing attorney in New England. The job seems almost the exact opposite from the life of a musician. Are there any similarities between the professions? (Some may think this is an odd question, but people are drawn to certain careers for reasons usually unknown. So it would be interesting to see if the law offers up adrenaline rushes, so to speak, like rock-n’-roll does for you?)
YOUNG: Mike and the Ravens had five charter members. Mike Brassard our leader and main vocalist and terrific song writer. Steve Blodgett, back-up singer played rhythm guitar and was also a tremendous as well as prolific tune penner. Steve’s brother, John our lead guitar guy (think Link Wray morphs into Jimmy Page with a slice of Chuck Berry) also penned many instrumental tunes. Our Bass Man, Brian Lyford, was also a back-up singer and occasional ditty writer himself. Then you had “Dung Young sitting on his drum lookin’ kinda dumb” as dubbed by Steve. (I’m getting to the answer to your question.)
Brian, Steve and yours truly became cell mates in October of ’62. As I indicated above we thought it would be kinda neat to serenade Stowe, Vermont, the Ski Capital of the East with the devil’s music at 2:00 am Sunday morning on labor Day weekend in 1962. Our choice of an amplifier was the robust belfry sound system of the iconic Stowe Community Church located on Main Street. Its speakers had a range of several miles. The entire album played before the locals could figure out what to hell was happening to their town. The Ski Capital of the East became Boomtown USA.
It was a lark for the ages we thought until we all received invites to attend a plea hearing at the local county court. Oh oh! We were sentenced to 60 days in the cooler with 58 days suspended and probation till further order of the court. Oh, and we had to pay the church restitution for using its alter candles for our light source and dripping wax on its extensive carillon record collection. (storing cigarette butts in the hymnals did not endear us to the church elders either.)
This church episode was the defining moment of my life and I dare say Brian and Steve’s as well. Something about jail vis a vis the world’s greatest prank did not jive. It acted as a catalyst as we three became Vermont practicing lawyers. (It helped that Vermont Governor Hoff gave each of us unconditional pardons in 1965. Otherwise it might have been difficult passing the “good moral character” assessment!)
Successful musicians and small town practicing lawyers have at least two things in common. They must have a modicum of talent and be able to sell themselves. Mike and the Ravens presented well as an eccentric and different type of band. We communed with our audience. Sometimes rash, sometimes bold and always with great vigor. Similarly, a small town lawyer which I was for 36 years to be successful must be likeable, trustworthy, caring and most importantly know how to connect with his or her potential clients.
There is no greater adrenaline rush then winning a supreme court case or hearing a jury verdict in your client’s favor. It exceeds a couple thousand adulating fans shouting “encore” but not by much.
FQ: If someone told you that one day in the future a young boy with dreams of being a superstar musician would dig up a box left behind, with a letter from you inside, what advice or knowledge would you pass on to him?
YOUNG: Is this what you really want? An existence on the road? Friends and family left behind? If so, then make sure you have a back-up plan cause life never turns out the way you think which is what makes it so interesting. And don’t smoke. Your career will be much shorter (and your breath too.)
FQ: I always like to end with this question, because readers like to know: If you could have lunch (or, in this case, jam in the garage) with one talent – living or dead – who would it be, and why?
YOUNG: A few days ago my wife and I had the good fortune to witness Rave On, the musical story of Buddy Holly one of the most important rock ‘n’ roll figures in the history of the devil’s music. He and the Crickets changed everything. They played their own instruments while they sang their own songs. Very rare in those days. Most top 40 artists in the ‘50s were soloists or groups backed by house or studio bands who sang the music of others. (Mike and the Ravens was similar as we played and sang our own compositions. Most competing bands just covered top 40 hits.)
In just a little over 2 ½ years on the national stage (1957-1959) Buddy Holly individually and or Buddy Holly and the Crickets had ten singles that made the charts. The legendary jam band, the Grateful Dead paid homage to him by playing Holly’s “Not Fade Away” 530 times. His work had a significant impact on many famous entertainers such as the Beatles, Stones, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen. Where were you when the music died that February 3, 1959? I want to have a beer with Buddy and his Crickets and say “Thank you!”